Ruffled Yeltsin tries to win time

A PUFFY, rambling and dishevelled Boris Yeltsin appeared before his parliamentary foes last night, pleading for a week of talks with Russia's leading politicians to try to save a crumbling compromise. His intervention came as delegates to the emergency session of the Congress of People's Deputies planned to seize national radio and television, and voted for a measure that could wreck monetary policy.

Congress hardliners launched their counter-attack after a half-hearted attempt to impeach the President had failed to win the required majority. Ruslan Khasbulatov, the chairman of parliament who is challenging Mr Yeltsin, adjourned the session to re-think strategy.

When he re-emerged the hardliners were seeking a way to remove national radio and television from Mr Yeltsin's influence.

Meanwhile, in a step that is likely to wreak havoc with the government's economic reforms, the Congress voted to compensate people whose savings have been wiped out by inflation. 'The purchasing power on every account should be restored to the level of 1 January 1992,' the resolution said. Consumer prices have risen by some 3,000 per cent in the past year.

The Congress countered Mr Yeltsin's referendum plans with its own proposal for one that would ask voters whether they approve of the economic reforms.

The proposal to debate impeachment had 475 votes in favour and 337 against; 517 votes - a simple majority in the 1,033-strong Congress - were needed to put impeachment on the agenda, while impeachment itself would have required a two-thirds majority.

Minutes after leaving the Grand Kremlin palace Mr Yeltsin was walking down Tverskaya Street, followed by a sympathetic crowd of about 150 people. Asked about the referendum he wants for 25 April, he said: 'It will turn out as the people wish. If they say yes, I will stay on. If not, I will resign. Freely and frankly. I would like the Congress to do so too.'

Mr Yeltsin said he was missing his mother, who died last Sunday at the age of 84. 'I spent 10 difficult years living with her in a small hut and it is hard for me to put up with this loss,' he said.

The second day of the emergency session also heard an impassioned plea from Viktor Chernomyrdin not to undermine the President's authority. 'Amputation of one of the branches of power will leave Russia a cripple or kill it off completely,' the Prime Minister warned and he joined the chorus of leading politicians calling for early elections.